Sep 30, 2015 at 09:05 AM CST
By SARAH EINSELEN
The Tribine carries 1,000 bushels of grain at a time and can unload nine bushels per second, or about 500 per minute.
LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — Ben Dillon, a farmer and inventor from the Logansport area, has developed a Tribine, a combination combine harvester and grain hauler designed to reduce the equipment and resources needed to harvest a crop of corn or wheat.
A subsidiary firm of the company Dillon and his five children own is gearing up to start production in January.
The modern combine harvester itself is a combination machine — doing the work of a header and a thresher to first cut the head off of wheat and then thresh it, separating the grain from the waste. It was invented in the 1800s and came into widespread use in Midwestern farming starting in the early 1900s, pulled first by horses, then by hooking up to a tractor and finally becoming self-powered.
Using a combine doubled or even tripled crop production compared to the header-and-thresher method and reduced the number of people needed to harvest a field by up to 80 percent.
“The existing combine architecture ... has been around since 1940,” Dillon said. “But it’s also maxed out.”
The biggest combines on the market now can carry no more than 400 bushels, Dillon explained. The speed at which they funnel harvested crops into an accompanying grain truck is limited, as well.
Starting in the late 1990s, Dillon experimented with adding grain carrying capacity onto the back of a combine.
Working with Roger Baber, a neighbor and owner of a welding business, Dillon built what would become the first generation of the Tribine in a pole barn next to the family homestead.
The duo built it with articulated steering — adding a pivot in the middle of the machine, like a door hinge, so the machine would have a smaller turning radius. And they built it to prove that the machine could, in fact, carry 1,000 bushels across a field, or as much grain as a grain truck.
“It was quite an accomplishment to build that first big one,” Baber said recently.
Dillon and Baber continued work on second and third generations, tinkering with various elements — whether one or two augurs should be used to empty the Tribine once it was full, for example.
Once designed, a prototype would take roughly nine months to build, Dillon said.
“We did not have an engineering team at that point,” he said. “It was pretty much myself and local fellas.”
Then Dillon teamed up with Agco Corp. to develop a fourth generation built onto one of Agco’s Gleaner combines.
A team of design engineers working at Agco’s Kansas facility helped Dillon solve problems as they cropped up, and Baber traveled to Kansas four times to assist with welding. That prototype was finished in 2012 and made a splash at an agricultural trade show the following year.
Besides carrying the equivalent of a grain truck full of corn, the Tribine also empties quickly — unloading at nine bushels per second, or about 500 per minute. “Our goal is to load the truck in two minutes,” Dillon said.
Response at the Ag Connect Expo in 2013 was “overwhelming,” Dillon said. “We could’ve sold several if we’d been able to build them then.”
But he wasn’t done. A year later, Tribine Harvester LLC was formed independently of Agco and consisted of a design team and administrators in Newton, Kan., plus another design engineer based in southern Indiana and Dillon.
They designed a fifth generation from the ground up, rather than basing it on an existing combine.
“This is the first one to be new from the ground up since the 1940s,” Dillon said proudly. He holds 32 patents on the fourth generation prototype and has 15 to 20 pending from development on the fifth generation, he said.
That’s the one he expects to manufacture starting next year. Real Agriculture reports the Newton (Kansas) City Council in July approved construction of the first Tribine harvester assembly plant.
He anticipates significant production through 2017, though he hesitated to make more specific estimates.
Baber said he’d never doubted the machine would eventually make it to production.
“It was just a matter of when Ben decided he felt like it was time to do another one of the same thing,” Baber said. “Each time we’ve tried to make it better so it’s neat that he’s come up with one he thinks is going to be the best, so we can build more than one.”
“It’ll be great someday to tell my grandkids that I helped build the very first one of them,” Baber added.
These days, Dillon spends about one week a month in Kansas with the design team. While the first 25 to 100 Tribine harvesters will have to be built at the Kansas facility, where design engineers can be on site to troubleshoot, Dillon expects that won’t always be the case.
“Long range, we still have a vision of manufacturing in Indiana,” he said.